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Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of the God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

In the May 22/29 issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, there was a quite significant article published that piqued my interest as a critical care specialist. It was a randomized trial which compared early vs. late placement of a tracheostomy tube.

Many times, patients are admitted to the ICU with severe illnesses that require long stints on the ventilator, or breathing machine. Quite commonly, critical care physicians make a clinical judgment as to who will likely need long-term ventilator support. In these patients, a surgical procedure called a “tracheostomy” is performed.

This is a procedure where a small incision is made in the neck and a plastic tube is then inserted into the trachea, or windpipe. The ventilator can then be connected to that plastic tube. It is much more comfortable, and it allows for easy disconnection from the ventilator without worrying about respiratory compromise.

It has long been debated among us critical care physicians whether placing such a tube early on in the course of a prolonged critical illness is beneficial. Studies have been done trying to answer this question, and it still has remained unclear. This most recent article seemed to give an answer…and it was one that surprised me.

The study authors, based in the UK, concluded thus:

For patients breathing with the aid of mechanical ventilation treated in adult critical care units in the United Kingdom, tracheostomy within 4 days of critical care admission was not associated with an improvement in 30-day mortality or other important secondary outcomes. The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.

This means that they found very little benefit to placing a trachesotomy tube early on in a patient’s critical illness. Yet, the key phrase – from a spiritual perspective – was the last sentence: “The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.

That’s doctorspeak for: “We doctors are not God.”

For many reading this, this clearly goes without saying. Yet, there are some in my field that think otherwise. We must always remind ourselves – and science has proven this – that we are not omniscient or omnipotent. That’s why I am reticent to answer questions such as, “How long do I have to live, doctor?” or “How long do you think it will take for me to get better?”

I have no idea.

Now, my experience and scientific research can allow me to make an educated guess. But, it is just that: a guess. The medical field, especially critical care medicine, has kept me honest. There have been many a patient who, when I first examined them, I was certain were going to die and subsequently lived and walked out of the ICU.

And, unfortunately, there have been patients who I thought would do well and did not. So, when I’m asked a question that causes me to speculate about the future, I give a cautious, measured answer because – and I have to be honest with myself and the patient – I simply do not know for certain.

I tell the questioner: “You know, that’s a difficult question to answer,” but I try to give my best guess. And in my experience, I have found that patients and their families appreciate the honesty. I remember once when, before even a diagnosis was made, an ER physician told a patient who had a spot in his lung: “You have six months to live.”

As a result, he was clearly dejected by the time I saw him. I said, “Hold on…we haven’t even made a diagnosis.” And he went on to live many months after that initial meeting. I will never do something like that because there is no way I could know something like that for certain.

Bottom line, just as the study says, “The ability of clinicians to predict which patients required extended ventilatory support was limited.” In fact, you can insert any outcome into that statement and be telling the truth. We can try to guess, but we can never know anything for certain because…we are not God.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

The attack at the Boston Marathon is truly personal for me. I was blessed to finish the 2010 Chicago Marathon, in honor of my daughter who died from cancer the year before. I remember the sheer elation, despite being in tremendous pain, of being able to finish the race and cross the finish line in regulation. That medal is one my most prized material possessions.

Thus, whenever I see, or hear about, or read about any marathon, my heart is warm with joy. To learn that someone maimed and murdered innocent people who came out to cheer on complete strangers running a race, it has left a deep, searing hole in my heart.

Whoever is behind the attack – whether it be followers of a twisted mutation of a great revealed religion; or anti-government extremists; or bloodthirsty murderers – the result is the same: innocent life was taken in a most senseless and barbaric manner.

And so I send out my prayers to Boston: that the Precious Beloved shield this great and beautiful city (which I was blessed to visit 2 years ago) from any more vicious attacks; that the Precious Beloved send down His Undying Mercy to those victims who have suffered injury or loss from this tragedy; that He grace every single community with safety and protection from all who seek to cause harm; that He protect us from the fires of hatred, that are already burning, which led to this attack, and those fires of hatred that may rise up as a result of this attack as well.

Precious Beloved Lord our God, be with the city of Boston and her beautiful, glorious people during this dark time of pain and loss.

Precious Beloved Lord our God, be with us all as we mourn this horrific and terrible tragedy.

Although I know that I could never qualify to run a Boston Marathon, on this day, I am proud to say that I am a Boston Marathoner.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

This Sunday, billions of Christians around the world will celebrate what is the most important holiday of the Christian spiritual calendar: Easter. It commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the central theological tenet of the Christian faith. As a Muslim, I will not be participating in Easter commemorations, per se. Nevertheless, it does not mean that the day means absolutely nothing to me.

Muslims also believe in and revere Jesus Christ. Not as God or God Incarnate, but he still plays a very important theological role in Islam. Yet, more than that, as a Muslim, I can see past the differences in belief between my Christian sisters and brothers and me and focus on the overarching theme: the victory over hatred and evil. And why did he win? Because right is might.

Jesus’ preaching raised the ire of many an enemy, and they sought to silence his – according to them – “dangerous ideas” by crucifying him. Yet, Jesus was doing nothing wrong. He was following God’s will and teaching what God commanded him to do. Moreover, what he taught was not dangerous at all: it called for a greater adoration for God and the attainment of a higher spiritual level. And when his enemies raised their objections, Jesus did not stop. He continued doing what he was commanded to do, because what he was doing was right in every way.

Thus, when they sought to kill him, he ultimately won by being resurrected after death (according to Christians) or raised up before crucifixion (according to Muslims). Still, the theme is the same: right is might.

This same theme applies, in fact, to all of the Prophets’ stories, including the Prophet Muhammad. In each instance, they did what God commanded them to do, despite the ire of their enemies. And all of them, to a tee, were saved by God when their enemies tried to destroy them and their missions. It is as God has decreed:

“God has thus ordained: ‘My apostles and I shall most certainly prevail.’ Verily, God is powerful [and] almighty.” (58:21)

That is because right is might, and God is always on the side of right. So many times in this world, it seems that might is right. Yet, the story of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, and others shows that the reality is just the opposite. And the lesson we, their followers, should learn is that we must always strive to stay on the path of what is right, as best as humanly possible. It is not always easy to do, and there are many times where we will fail in that task. But, we must try the best we can.

And when we do, I know that God will be there to help us.

A most blessed Easter to all my Christian sisters and brothers and their families.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful

I join the rest of the world – Catholic and non-Catholic – Christian and non-Christian – in congratulating the Catholic Church on electing their new Pontiff, Pope Francis I. May the Lord our God guide him to all that is right and good in all of his actions. I congratulate my fellow Americans who are Catholic on the election of their new Pope, and I pray for them the very best.

It is quite interesting that the new Pope is a Jesuit, and that this new Pope took on the name of the head of another Catholic Order, the Franciscans. I pray that this sense of unity and tolerance permeates all communities of faith in the days, weeks, and years to come. I was honored to witness his announcement, and I was happy that a Jesuit became Pope. I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, and I was amazed by how wonderful of teachers they are. I always have a soft spot in my heart for the men who take on the tremendous challenge of being members of the Society of Jesus.

As a Muslim, who worships the very same Lord our God, who venerates and honors our Master Jesus Christ, and who loves and honors his mother, I pray that this same sense of tolerance that the new Pope has shown spreads between our two faith communities. We may differ in our theologies, but we are still brothers and sisters in Adam, upon whom be peace. We may differ in how we worship, but we still – nevertheless – call upon the very same Deity as our Lord and Sustainer. We may look at Christ in very different ways, but we still both love and honor him nonetheless.

Indeed, I am not a Catholic or even a Christian, but I still would be blessed to be a member of the “Society of Jesus,” by which I mean a world society in which the principles of Jesus Christ – and all of God’s Prophets – are followed and implemented. Indeed, Christ’s principles are the very same of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the Sermon on the Mount could have just as easily been given by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as it was by Christ (pbuh).

I pray that – with the election of a new Pope, Francis I – our two faith communities come together and work for the common good; to champion the rights of the less fortunate, as Cardinal Bergoglio was known to do; to work together to bring peace, prosperity, health, and wealth – both material and spiritual – to all of the world’s people. I echo the words of God, as revealed in the Qur’an, to the new Pope on this day of his election:

Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Compete, then, with one another in doing good works. Unto God you all must return; and then He will make you truly understand all that on which you were wont to differ (5:48).

Congratulations to all of the world’s Catholics on the election of their new Pope. God be with him, and you, and with us all. Amen.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

Given that is the time of year for love, sort of, I had blogged about a particular song, “Lullabies” by singer/songwriter Yuna (a Muslim woman who wears the headscarf, by the way). I wrote about how the song reminds me of someone who wanted to “go away” with the Lord but then decided not to, only to regret the decision later.  I had concluded that:

we should never let go of the Beloved, who is truly our “First Love.” He loved us first, and one of the greatest manifestations of this Divine Love is that He gave us life when we were dead. Thus, we cannot help but love Him in return. And we must love Him first, for He loved us first. Thus, He is always our “First Love.” And we should never let Him go.

Yet, say – for whatever reason – someone does let go of his “First Love”? Say, for whatever reason, someone forsakes the path of God and takes his own? Say, for whatever reason, someone decides not to walk with God, but rather walk with someone or something else? Does God go anywhere?

Absolutely not.

The Lord always remains there, waiting patiently for the person to come back to Him. That is part of His Beauty; that is part of His Mercy; that is part of His Grace. So, even though I see that song’s narrator as lamenting the decision to forsake the Lord and His path, and as the song says:

Like lullabies you are,
Forever in my mind.
I see you in all,
The pieces in my life.
Though you weren’t mine,
you were my first love.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t come back. Yes, I said we should never let Him go in the first place. Nevertheless, for those who have – for whatever reason – they can always come back. The Lord will not go anywhere. He will always be there. His love will always endure, always be strong, always be there to comfort and soothe.

That is why He is such an Awesome God. That is why He is so worthy of worship. That is why He is so Wonderful a Master. His Name be praised for ever and ever, Amen.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

No, it’s not the “Muslim Christmas.” I have never put lights on my house, placed a tree in the family room, and exchanged gifts. Nevertheless, it is a very happy day for me and Muslims all around the world: the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, or Maulid un Nabi, as it is known in Arabic.

In the Islamic calendar, it is the 12th day of the month of Rabi al Awal, and it will occur later this month. Now, the puritans, literalists, and fundamentalists insist that celebrating this day is “innovation,” or bida’h. They rail against Muslims commemorating this day, because the “Prophet never celebrated his birthday.”

Indeed, it is not recorded that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ever celebrated his birthday, that’s true. Yet, as a Muslim, how can I not be happy about the Prophet’s birthday? On that day, the Lord manifested His love for me in one of the most profound ways: sending me my guide in my life. On that day, the Lord blessed me with sending me His Emissary, to show me how to life my life in the best way possible. On that day, the Lord sent into the world His Last Messenger to take me out of the darkness into the light.

How can I not celebrate that? How can I not be happy about that?

All around the world, Muslims show their joy and happiness over the Prophet’ s birth in a variety of ways: some sing songs about him; others pass out candy and treats: in fact, in Egypt (from where my ancestors hail), there is a specific candy called “the Maulid candy.” And, yes, many hang lights in their houses and mosques.

In the Chicago area, there have been numerous celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday in which Muslims got together, shared sweets, and sang songs and read poetry commemorating and remembering the Prophet Muhammad. I attended one of these, and it was one of the most uplifting experiences I have had. I left with such an invigorated love for the Prophet Muhammad.

How can this be wrong?

In fact, it is this love for the Prophet that led me to publish my book of poetry, Noble Brother. In it, I tell the Prophet’s story entirely in poetry. I wanted to share how his life and ministry has shaped me, but in an entirely different way. And in it, I wrote about the day he was born:

A sacred union was ordained from Above
Two souls joined in dignity and love
A child was conceived by the blessed pair
But father passed away before he could see his heir

The burden was light for now widowed mother
Who has to carry child without comfort of father
A voice came to her in the dark of the night
Showing her palaces from afar with a glorious light

The light emanates from her womb which holds
A special child, about whom tales will be told
And the voice instructs her to ask the Only
To seek refuge in Him from both envier and envy

The glorious day comes and the star is shone
A glorious blessing from the Lord of the Throne
“He has come!” declares the follower from before
And expectations are high from places galore

Nobleman become father lifts up the child in glee
And declares to the world that “Praised is he.”
And now the time has come for all of the world
To worship the One and Only, our Most Precious Lord.

It is almost as if I cannot help but be happy about that day: for, on that day, the spiritual journey that led me to this place in my life took its first step: the birth of the man who would bring me my faith; the birth of the man who would show me how to truly live; the birth of the man who would show me my God.

No, the Mawlid is not an “official religious festival,” per se. Yet, still, that day is so important for Muslims all over the world, for their beloved Prophet was born on that day. How can celebrating this day be wrong?

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful

This was my contribution to the My Jihad campaign, a national effort spearheaded right here in Chicago, to reclaim the term Jihad from the Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.

Loss and Heartbreak

Every day, I get up early in the morning to try to help other people feel better by the Grace of God. Every day, I get up early – and sometimes come home very late – to help someone else have a little less pain. Every day, I live a dream come true: being a physician, and it is a blessing beyond measure.

I work in the field of Pulmonary and Critical Care, and so – every day – I take care of people who have been ravaged by the destruction wrought by cigarette smoking. I see people who cannot breathe because their lungs have been destroyed by said cigarette smoke, and I try to help them breathe a little better. In addition, I take care of patients who are critically ill and must stay in the intensive care unit for a time. In many instances, these patients are so sick to be near death.

And it is my honor to work as hard as I can to bring them out of their life-threatening illness. Being a doctor is a tough life, and many times it is a struggle that can be overwhelming. But is a struggle that I am privileged to undertake. Most of the time, by the Grace of God, the medical team and I are successful, and our patients can live to see many more years of life.

Sometimes, however, despite doing everything humanly possible, the medical team and I are not successful, and our patients succumb to their disease. And many times, I unfortunately must give families the bad news and help counsel them through the profound grief at the loss of their loved one. Yet, one time, the tables were turned on my wife and me.

It was on the day our daughter passed away.

Our eldest daughter was afflicted by a crippling genetic disorder called Ataxia-Telangiectasia, and as a result of this illness, she developed Diffuse Large B-cell lymphoma. After undergoing six cycles of chemotherapy, she developed septic shock: an overwhelming systemic response to infection. And despite a truly heroic effort on the part of her medical team, she lost her battle and passed away on June 7, 2009.

Ever since that day, my heart has been searing from a pain that is truly indescribable. Ever since that day, my wife and I have tried to pick up the pieces of our shattered hearts and try to move on. Indeed, the Lord has not abandoned us in our tragedy. He has given us so much joy in the years since. Nevertheless, the pain of her loss is still so fresh, so acute, that I sometimes cannot breathe from the agony.

What’s worse, everything at work reminds me of her affliction. Every ICU room looks like the one in which she died. Every time a patient needs to breathe with the help of a special BiPAP machine, it can remind me of when she went through the same thing. When I stand at the bedside of a patient with a similar type of shock, it reminds me of those truly horrific hours when my daughter was clinging to the shards of her fragile life. And I when I try to comfort a husband, or a wife, or a mother, or a daughter, or a son -screaming out in pain at the death of their loved one – it gives me a terrible pain in my heart as well.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember my beautiful daughter and remember the terrible torture of having to watch her die in front of my eyes. There is not a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t scream out in horror that I lost my baby forever. Sometimes, I want to literally scream out – to try to comfort the devastating torment I endure each and every day.

But I don’t, and that is my Jihad.

“Jihad” is Arabic for “struggle,” and in Islam, “Jihad” is the sacred struggle to bring good in this world. It can mean different things to different people. For me, my Jihad is to keep myself together and not shrink away into a world of grief and sadness.

I do this for the sake of my wife, to try to be there for her and help comfort her even greater agony and terror. I do this for the sake of my surviving children, so they can know a happy life and not one with constant sadness. And I do this for the sake of my critically ill patients, so I can think clearly about the proper treatment plan they need so they can get better.

But, it is really, really hard.

And so, each and every day, I reach out to the Lord for His help and His comfort. I reach out to The Lord for His grace and mercy because, without Him, there is no way I could have made it this far. But, even with God’s help, the pain is still there, for losing a child is the worst thing a parent can endure. And it is a Jihad I will have to endure for the rest of my life.

She was alone, as she was wont to do, worshiping in the Eastern part of the Temple when a stranger entered into her presence. Startled, she immediately did what she knew best: turn to her Lord for protection.

“I seek refuge from you,” she told the stranger, “with the Most Gracious. Approach me not if you are conscious of Him!”

Yet, this was no brigand or criminal. He was a Holy Messenger, sent from the One on High, and he sought to assuage her fear: “I am but a messenger of thy Lord, who says: ‘I shall bestow upon thee the gift of a son endowed with purity.'”

She was shocked at this news.

“How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me, and I have not been an unchaste woman?” she asked in terror.

The Angel, again, sought to assuage her fear: “Thus it is, but your Lord says: ‘This is easy for Me! You shall have a son so that We might make him a symbol for humanity and an act of grace from Us. And it was a thing decreed by God.'”

And thus, as everyone knows, Mary became with the child Jesus.

This story that I quoted here is not found in the Bible. I took it from the Qur’an: Chapter 19, verses 16-21. In fact, the story of the birth of Christ is all over the Qur’an, as is the birth of Mary herself:

When a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Lord! Behold, to You do I vow [the child] that is in my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, You alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!”

But when she had given birth to the child, she said: “O my Lord! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female – “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Your protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.”

And thereupon her Lord accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth… (3:35-37)

In fact, it is this event that Catholics the world over commemorate in their Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is December 8. When I attended Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, I would get that day off, and it was always welcome. But, I had always thought that it was a day commemorating the conception of Christ. I was surprised – pleasantly – that it was about the Virgin Mary.

She, and her magnificent son, have always been highly honored and revered in Islam. I have grown up holding Jesus (and his mother) in the highest regard, as a mighty and magnificent Prophet and the Messiah sent to the Children of Israel. In fact, the Qur’an points to the Virgin Mary as the archetype of the believer, whether male or female:

And [We have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], and who accepted the truth of her Lord’s words – and [thus] of His revelations – and was one of the truly devout. (66:12)

No, as Muslims, we do not worship them as divine beings. That does not mean, however, that we hold them in contempt or would even fathom maligning them as, sadly, some followers Christ have done with our Prophet Muhammad.

The bottom line is this: Muslims, Christians, and Jews have so much more in common than in distinction. We worship the self-same God of Abraham; we revere all of His Prophets; we are all called to work together for the common good of our world.

Is it not high time that we, the Children of Abraham, forgo differences in belief and come together as servants of, not only our Lord, but all of humanity?

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful 

I can only share in a tiny amount of the elation of the people of Israel and Palestine over the cease-fire that was negotiated today. That both Israelis and Palestinians can breathe a little sigh of relief that no more rockets and bombs will rain down upon them is a very good thing. Yet, sadly, we have seen this before. We have seen the crying faces of parents, children, and loved ones before. We have heard the screams of innocent people many times before. When will it end? When will the leaders of both sides gather the courage to finally forge a lasting peace so that both Palestinians and Israelis can look toward a future full of hope?

A cynic (or realist) will say that this day is still a long way off. Yet, with God all things are possible. Thus, during this season of giving thanks, I raise my hands up in prayer:

Precious Beloved and Beautiful Lord our God!
Beautiful Holy One on High in Whose Hand lies all of our souls!
All Praise and Thanks go to You, Mighty King of Kings!
Lord! Precious Beloved! I thank Thee for the cessation of violence in the Holy Land.

Lord, I look at the crying faces of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters and my heart cries out.
Lord, the cry of the child is no less heartbreaking whether it was Israeli or Palestinian.
Lord, the pain of the parent is no less horrific if it was Muslim, Christian, or Jew.

And so, my Beautiful Majestic Lord, please bring peace to the Holy Land!
Bring peace to the land which You have blessed for all time!
Bring peace to the place upon which Your Prophets and Messengers have tread!
Silence the guns of hatred and the rockets of malice for all time, O Lord!

Politicians and leaders do not have the courage to bring peace
So, Lord, give them that courage they so sorely lack!
Precious Beloved, let the smiles of children reign supreme in the Holy Land!
Let the laughter of children be the only noise that disturbs the silence of Peace!

Lord our God, both sides in this conflict raise their hands to You in prayer!
So, Bring the children of Abraham together in peace as the brothers and sisters they were meant to be
Bring an end to the violence and let the Holy Land be a place of safety and sanctuary
Let not the Holy Land ever be a place where the thud of bombs and rockets are commonplace

Let the Holy Land be a place of peace and solace
Let the Holy Land ring with the praises of Your Holy Name
Let the Holy Land be a place where we can all be one in Your Love

In Your Most Holy Name I do ask these things. Amen.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful 

I am tired of the election season. As I write this, a political campaign ad is playing on the TV. It is the same one I have seen time, after time, after time, after time, after time. I think half of our recycling bin is political campaign flyers. I don’t think I can take much more of this…

Still, despite my weary fatigue of politics, I voted early last Thursday. I took my daughter with me as well. There was no way I could not vote. In fact, I believe it is my sacred, religious duty to vote.

Islam demands excellence of me in every aspect of my life: excellence in my spiritual life; excellence in my social life; excellence in my family life; and excellence in my civic life. The Quran tells me that: “You are indeed the best community brought forth for [the good] of humanity: you enjoin the doing of good, forbid the doing of evil, and you believe in God.” (3:110)

That means that I must do as much as I can to promote the common good, and this has to include voting in every single election. Ideally, I should hold public office to try to help promote the common good myself. But, I am not cut out for politics; I am not cut out for a life in public service; I love being a doctor too much to leave it aside for a political career.

But I can vote, and thus I must do so in each and every election. It is the very least I can do for my country. My faith demands nothing less of me.

So, go out on November 6 and vote. Make your voice be heard.